hood are all the more urgent because of the changing demographic profile of many developing countries. The acceleration of these global changes has coincided with unprecedented growth in the size of the population of young people in developing countries. By 2005, the total number of 10-24-year-olds is estimated to have reached 1.5 billion, constituting nearly 30 percent of the population of these regions and 86 percent of all young people in the world. And each subsequent cohort of young people in the developing world is projected to continue to increase until 2035, as rapid growth in Africa and parts of Asia counteracts some slow declines in absolute numbers elsewhere in Asia and in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Recognizing the need to learn more about this crucial period of life, the National Research Council convened a panel of experts to examine how the transition to adulthood is changing in developing countries, and what the implications of these changes might be for those responsible for designing youth policies and programs, in particular, those affecting adolescent reproductive health.

According to the panel’s findings, important transformations in young peoples’ lives are under way. In much of the developing world, adolescence is a stage of life that is gaining in significance. In the past, young men and women tended to move directly from childhood to adult roles. But today the interval between childhood and the assumption of adult roles is lengthening. Compared to the situation 20 years ago, young people are

  • entering adolescence earlier and healthier,

  • more likely to spend their adolescence in school,

  • more likely to postpone entry into the labor force, and

  • more likely to delay marriage and childbearing.

As a result of these changes, on average, young people in the developing world now have more time and opportunities than ever before to acquire the information and skills necessary to become effective participants in decisions about their own lives and futures.

These broad statements capture only the average tendencies for young people in developing countries, which tend to be statistically dominated by trends in developing Asia, where 70 percent of young people in developing counties live, 42 percent in India and China alone. Differential rates of change have led, in some cases, to growing differences among adolescents within and across countries, as some young people experience progress while others are left behind. Over the past 20 years, economic growth rates in Latin America and the Caribbean and in sub-Saharan Africa have diverged negatively from economic growth rates in developed countries, while growth rates in East and South Asia, where the majority of young people live, have converged toward economic growth rates in developed countries.

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